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Many work part-time for lack of better options
Labor Day 2011 bogged down by high underemployment
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Lee Ramey walks his wife, Sherry, to her office at The Longstreet Clinic where she works in the evening. Lee owns a lawn service business, JSS Lawncare.

Talk about an employment roller coaster.

Lee and Sherry Ramey of Gainesville found out on a Monday five years ago they were expecting their first child. The next day, Sherry lost her full-time job.

Fortunately, Lee had a full-time job with benefits to cover health care costs of the pregnancy and delivery. A year later, he lost that job.

The couple has recovered through part-time jobs, and Lee started a grass-cutting business, reflecting a growing trend of Americans whom the U.S. Department of Labor has identified as “involuntary part-time workers.”

As of July 1, the country had 5.7 million Americans in this category, consisting of folks who have resorted to part-time work because they can’t find full-time jobs, said John L. Scott, associate economics professor at North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega.

Before the Great Recession, which started in late 2007, nearly 2.7 million Americans were classified as involuntary part-time.

Here’s another bad statistic: If you count involuntary part-time, America’s jobless rate would jump to 13.3 percent from 9.09 percent, Scott’s numbers show.

Tougher to swallow: Corporate balance sheets aren’t hurting for cash, with bottom lines adding up to a projected $1 trillion.

But don’t expect a flurry of companies to hang out “Now hiring” signs anytime soon.

“They don’t know what the government is going to do next,” Scott said. “They don’t know what rules are going to be made.”

He referred specifically to Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, a financial reform law passed by Congress in 2010.

“That is 2,000 pages set up the government to write a few hundred rules, and (lawmakers) haven’t written them yet,” Scott said. “So, business knows there’s this huge legislative restriction coming, but they don’t know what it is.”

Wall Street isn’t alone is knowing uncertainty.

Sherry Ramey recalls the day she lost her job as a claims processor.

“It was devastating,” she said. “I had a great job and here I’m expecting a baby and thinking I can work at home and support her. ... I didn’t know what to think or do. Nobody’s going to hire a pregnant woman.”

A year after Skyler, now 4, was born, her husband lost his full-time job.

“After we had the baby, we couldn’t afford child care, so I had to stay home with her,” Sherry said.

She now works part-time in the evenings at The Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville, posting insurance payments to patient accounts.

After he lost his full-time job, Lee got a part-time job at UPS.

“I had always cut grass part time, so I started cutting grass full time,” Lee said.

The Rameys said they get by OK financially.

“It’s a little tight from time to time, but we make it,” Lee said. “It would help if gas prices would go down. I go through a lot of fuel.”

Julia King of Gainesville is just leaving the part-time world, having been upgraded from four days a week to full-time status with the Gainesville school system.

“I can’t say no to that,” she said.

She couldn’t hang on, however, to a second part-time job she was holding — and adored — with Hall County Adult Learning Center.

“I can’t physically and mentally handle (both jobs),” King said.

Before the job change, “I needed everything I could get with two kids in college,” she said. “I had made enough to pay the bills and (cope) with HOPE (scholarship) cutting back and not paying for books for the first time.”

As for the economy getting back on track, Scott has a few thoughts.

“If you leave people alone, they will try to solve their individual problems,” he said. “Maybe ... they look for a job, get training; maybe it’s declare bankruptcy and try to move on.”

Scott added, “The more we do to try to rescue things, the more uncertainty we end up creating.”

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